Friends often ask me “Do you enjoy being a counsellor?” It is a question which usually leaves me lost of words – it is one I don’t know how to begin to answer. What does the word ‘enjoy’ mean?
Do we have ‘fun’ in the therapy room, and spend the hour laughing and joking? Um, no. Not usually. Yes, there are smiles, there are moments of sharing a ‘funny’. But I couldn’t describe therapy as fun.
Do we breeze through the session, sharing experiences we have in common, telling stories? Um, no. Yes, there are points of connection but I couldn’t describe therapy as having a cozy chat.
Do we share philosophical or intellectual ideas around fascinating and absorbing themes? Um, again no. Yes there are moments of profound insight, but I couldn’t describe them as ground-breaking new concepts.
Do we solve the world’s problems? Um, I wish! Yes, we do sometimes find a way of looking at an intractable stuck bit with new eyes, but I couldn’t describe it as “putting the world to rights” as my childhood friend and I did on the swings in the park, when teenagers.
So do I ‘enjoy’ counselling? In that sense, no I don’t. It’s not an enjoyable occupation.
But I find that I grow to love my clients in a sometimes brief but intense way, that just doesn’t happen with friends. For an hour each week, with each client I am solely and intently focused on their world and on their experience of it, putting aside anything that might prevent me being right in their world alongside them. I don’t ask for anything for myself in that time; I am there to “commit myself fully and unconditionally to their process of change and development” (Val Woskett in “The Therapeutic Use of Self” 1999). I couldn’t do that without love, or if I had any resentment for the demands it makes on me.
Loving in this way is absorbing, moving, fascinating, sometimes shocking and painful, and yet at the same time affords some of the most meaningful interactions that I ever have. To be offered the opportunity to love someone in that way is an absolute privilege.
Do I enjoy my job? Um, not really.
Do I love my job? Um, profoundly.